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The Langenstein-Zwieberge was a concentration camp, an under-camp of the Buchenwald concentration camp. More than 7000 prisoners from 23 countries were imprisoned there between April 1944 and April 1945. The camp was situated in the village of Langenstein, Saxony-Anhalt, that has since been absorbed into the town of Halberstadt.
The first group of deportees from Buchenwald arrived on 21 April 1944. They were 18, French, and formed the executives of the Kommando future. They were initially placed in an inn of the periphery of Langenstein, then, the convoys following one another, while waiting for the completion of the construction of the camp, in a barn, which still exists, located at the exit of the village. Six convoys arrived, from 26 September 1944 to 18 February 1945.
The construction of the camp was completed in August 1944 with the electrified enclosure; 7 blocks plus the appendices (Revier, kitchen, etc.) the inn and the barn replaced. When manpower reached 5,100 prisoners, in February 1945, there were 18 blocks.
Manpower decreased then (4,400 people at the beginning of April 1945), the number of deaths exceeded the number of the newcomers by far.
In the week from 19 to 25 March 1945, on 1308 dead deducted for Buchenwald and its Kommandos, Langenstein-Zwieberge had the unhappy privilege to arrive at the head, with 234 dead, in front of Ohrdruf (207) and Leau (69).
As of the first days of their arrival, the deportees started to dig galleries in the still virgin site of the hills of Thekenberge. In ten months of terrible sufferings, the prisoners completed nearly 10 km of galleries, of a surface of 60.000 m². Some were enough vast to accommodate trains of coaches. Some had cost a death per meter of projection. Life expectancy for prisoners was six weeks.
Prisoners worked in two 12-hour shifts under atrocious conditions, in dust, insufficient air, and under the blows of the kapos. Many returned to the camp exhausted, with barely enough energy to eat their soup.
The principal goal of the excavations was to hide production facilities for the Junkers factories that would build new types of jets and weapons. With this in mind, the Junkers firm arranged a small camp of three huts inside the large camp in edge of the place of call to place there deportees specialists, 869 people, arrivals of Kommandos of Halberstadt, Aschersleben, Langensalza, and Niederorschel.
The small camp, with neither reed nor straw mattress, the prisoners, like the others, were forced to dig tunnels.
Dead prisoners were initially sent to the Quedlinburg by horse-drawn car, then by truck. The ashes of 912 victims, including 131 French, rest in the cemetery of this city.
In March, the crematory couldn't continue its work for lack of fuel, and the bodies accumulated in a hut. They were buried, either in four large pits outside the camp that contain more than 700, or close to Revier, inside the camp, in a pit where several hundreds of other bodies lie.
The corpses were transported, by two, in wooden cases carried by four prisoners after work. They emptied the cases into the pits and the downward file was going to seek a new loading until almost complete exhaustion of the mass grave. The last bodies, in full decomposition, untransportable, remained in the hut. The S.S. responsible for the loading closed again the hut with key because there had been flights of thighs of corpses.
On the evening of 9 April 1945, ahead of the advance of the American troops, who reached the Elbe, 3,000 survivors of the camp, in six columns of 500, escorted by the S.S. marched east. The majority went during 15 days and, after 300 km, were found close to Wittenberg, on Elbe.
One column was completely destroyed without a trace. Another column marched until 28 April and arrived close to Berlin with only 18 survivors. It is roughly estimated that 500 to 1500 survived these column marches.
Liberation of the camp
The first Allied soldier in the camp, First Lieutenant Raymond L. Reed, a medic with the U.S 8th Armored Division writes, "Sometime between Apr. 10 – 15th I found Langenstein concentration camp when the townspeople told me there was a “Concentrations-lager” on the hill overlooking the town. I opened the gates and not a sound from the camp, no dogs, no guards, nothing. Drew my P-38 from my holster & opened the door of the 1st barrack & found a horrible sight – emaciated men 3 to 4 to a bunk, some dead, some alive. No reaction – living zombies just stared at me. Estimated 1,000 alive. Radioed back for field hospital. Only 100 remained alive 1 week later. Took book on prisoners from headquarters and gave to my commanding officer – prisoners fed only water and potato peels."
First Allied infantry soldiers to discover the camp, PFCs Norman Panagos and Irving "Ike" Olshaker of M Company, 331st Regiment, 83rd Infantry Division, report seeing German jeeps exiting the rear of the camp as the infantrymen approach the front gate. GI's were stunned at the sight and smell, and handed out what little rations and cigarettes they had on them.
Excerpt from an after action report of the 78th Armored Medical Battalion concerning the Langenstein concentration camp:
“A camp for political prisoners. In fact it was an “extermination” camp, the inmates being forced to work about 15 hour per day in the nearby mine on a small ration of dry bread and water. When prisoners became too weak to work there were generally executed bu the SS guards. Mortality averaged about 300 per month. They were buried in communal graves, a new layer being added each day. Number presently is about 1100, all male, roughly divided as follows—300 Poles, 200 Russians, 200 French, 100 Belgians and Dutch, 200 Czechs and 100 Germans.
As a consequence of bad treatment by the Germans during the last days of their regime, the present death rate is between 25-30 per day. The average weight of the patients is 60 lbs, due to malnutrition. The men are all lousy and the barracks and wooden beds are full of lice, the there is no report of typhus. Practically all have dysentery. Most of the inmates are stretcher cases.”
An excerpt from an article in Stars and Stripes, Friday April 20, 1945, reads, “The smell of death was there, even among the still living. In the hospital were those about to die. There was one man who had been beaten about the hips for stealing potato peelings. He just didn't have any flesh there any more. The rest of the men in the hospital had dysentery. They lay there in their own excrement, too weak to move. One man, stronger than the rest, stood ant the door. He wore only a short nightshirt. You could see he had no thighs, no calves, no hips. His legs were bones with great knobs for knees. His body was a skeleton covered with taut, gray skin.”
On 18 April all these patients were taken by military ambulances to a barracks of Halberstadt which had been transformed into a hospital. The majority of the evacuees died there in the days that followed. Their remains rest in a common grave in the city cemetery.
The Langenstein-Zwieberge Memorial
On 11 September 1949 a memorial and a commemorative plaque were inaugurated at the place of the common graves. Since 1976 there exists a museum on the ground of the Memorial of Langenstein-Zwieberge.
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- Cite web | url=http://www.8th-armored.org/pics/8cc/8cc_p03.htm |title = 8th Armored Division - Photos}}
- "8th Armored Division - Photos".
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Langenstein-Zwieberge concentration camp.|
- Photos taken by soldiers of the 8th Armored Division
- History of U.S. 8th Armored Division, which liberated the camp
- Testimony of Eddie Hellmuth Willner, former prisoner of the camp
- Current photographies taken by the French photographer Raymond Faure
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Langenstein-Zwieberge concentration camp.|